Nationalism a betrayal of patriotism: Macron's words trigger debate

French President Emmanuel Macron is flanked by US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as he delivers a speech before a lunch at the Elysee Palace, during commemorations for Armistice Day. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Nov 12, 2018, 11.29 PM (IST)

World leaders gathered Sunday in Paris to celebrate a 100 years since the end of World War I

At a ceremony to celebrate the armistice which brought "the war to end all wars" to an end, French President Emmanuel Macron said "nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism". 

It was nationalism — the kind we are beginning to see again in Europe, the US, and here in India — that had set off the two world wars. 

Macron's words in turn — they were seen as a jibe at the rising tide of nationalism around the world — have set off a debate. What do the two words mean and is one better than the other. 

Let's start with understanding what they mean. 

The Oxford dictionary defines nationalism as "Identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations."

Patriotism on the other hand is "The quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one's country." 

The term patriotism is older and was first used in its modern context in the mid-1600's whereas nationalism was first used in the late 18th century. The two words were initially interchangeable but things changed when nationalism became associated with ethnic-supremacy movements. 

US President Donald Trump (who was also at Paris) has embraced the nationalism label and asked his fellow countrymen to use the word unabashedly. 

Hungary and Austria have also elected nationalist leaders who have spoken of pure and ethnic races. 

Hitler too believed in an extreme form of German nationalism. His nationalism meant glorifying the army and the pure Aryan race; he asked his people to acknowledge their profound dependence upon the nation and insisted that people identify themselves entirely with the nation.

Then there were the critics, who denounced nationalism as an idea that promoted hatred and the supremacy of one group over another. 

Albert Einstein said nationalism is an infantile thing, it is the measles of mankind. "Nationalism, in my opinion, is nothing more than an idealistic rationalisation for militarism and aggression."

Rabindranath Tagore, the man who gave india its national anthem, said: ‘I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live." He added that “patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter". 

Tagore also warned Gandhi that there was a thin line between nationalism and xenophobia. 

BR Ambedkar, the architect of India's constitution said: "I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indians first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians."

And former French president Charles de Gaulle had famously said "patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first".

Story highlights

French President Emmanuel Macron made the comment at the commemoration Sunday of a 100 years of the end of WWI. It was nationalism that had set off the two world wars.